In honour of LGBT History Month here in the UK I thought I would write a piece on why this community, my community is so important to me. My love of the LGBT community and Drag in particular is well known to everyone around me, however the effect it has had on me goes a lot deeper than the glitter and the lashes.
I came out to the world when I was 14, and although it wasn’t a huge surprise for a lot of people, it was extremely difficult for me. For the longest time I was afraid that because my family didn’t speak to me about my sexuality, they were ignoring it in the hope that it was ‘just a phase’. It wasn’t until I left for university and really ‘found myself’ (for lack of a better phrase) that I realised the reason that my family never talked about my sexuality was, and is, because they couldn’t care less about who I am attracted to as long as I am happy.
I have been extremely lucky with my lot in life. I have an incredible family and fabulous friends, I have had a very good education and I live in a country where I have all the same legal rights as my heterosexual counterparts. Many people around the world, especially those in the LGBT community are not as fortunate as me, and this is an issue that I have always been aware of. In a world where the news seems to be an endless stream of doom and gloom I think it is important to allow yourself time to focus on the good, to celebrate diversity and difference wherever and whenever it appears.
The LGBT community, and in particular Soho, have become a safe haven for me. They form a space where I can I showcase myself, flaws and all, without fear of criticism or punishment. It is rare to find a space where you can be yourself so completely, and as a gay man that is even more true. I spent my teenage years and much of the last few years struggle to discover who I was and what I wanted to be, couple this with depression and its easy to see how I became so lost.
The LGBT community is one of the most diverse on the planet, and whilst there are hundreds or amazing aspects to this group, it was in Drag that I found not only solace but also a love of life that I don’t experience anywhere else.
Many people, even within the LGBT community, view Drag as little more than entertainment. A comical, beautiful and often mind-boggling pass time undertaken by people who crave attention above all else. Drag is so much more than this. In a society that seems transfixed on outward beauty, sex and the pursuit of wealth Drag is often dismissed as a fad, but it was not some big burly masculine gay man that first stood up to the police at the Stonewall Inn back in June 1969, it was a Drag Queen.
Since that day Drag has been the face of the gay community and to a certain extent the LGBT community as a whole. Thanks to heroes like Sylvia Riviera and Marsha P. Johnson LGBT people across the world are getting closer to true equality. Drag Queens have been protesting arrests, leading parades and celebrating diversity day in day out since the beginning. You need only sit with a Queen for a moment to see that the heart of Drag, the essence of being a Drag Queen is self-love.
It is in this that I have found my place within the LGBT community, and to a lesser extent society as a whole. There is something magical about slipping on a pair of heels, slapping on some makeup and adorning yourself with a fabulous frock. It allows you escape, even if only for a moment, from all the worries of real life, it provides you with the stage from which you can show the world your true self; that part of you that would otherwise go unseen.
I am not suggesting that Drag is for everyone, every person needs to find their own space, their own set of false lashes so to speak. For you that could be a paint brush, a banged up old car or even a pair of football boots. The point is, we are so often preoccupied with all that life throws at us that we spend all our time dodging crap instead of throwing some back. I have found that Drag is the only space in which I feel confident enough and strong enough to forget about my problems and just enjoy myself.
LGBT History Month is extremely important, not just to me but to society as a whole. It gives us a chance to look back on the errors of the past so that we may attempt to improve the future. Sexuality and gender are difficult to understand for many people around the world, they are issues that for most of recent human history have been binary, solid terms with little room for movement.
The fact is, neither sexuality nor gender are terms that should ever be forced onto someone. For many people growing up questioning their sexuality or feeling confused about their gender, it is the fear of judgement and attack that prevents them from embracing their true selves. So next time you want to describe something as ‘that’s so gay’ or feel the urge to refer to Caitlin Jenner as a ‘him’ just stop, the person you are talking to might be struggling within themselves.
Knowledge of LGBT history is embarrassingly poor, particularly among millennials, and that is half the problem. Just like any other form of ignorance, education is the key. So please, if you only do one thing in honour of LGBT history month this year then take the time to read an article from The Advocate, watch a film like ‘Paris is Burning’ or simply have a conversation with a queer person in your life. It is always better to ask than to assume, and trust me you would be surprised how happy our community is to answer, if you’ll only take the time to listen.
People are already criticizing Lady Gaga for not being political enough during her Super Bowl performance, accusing her of squandering a once in a lifetime opportunity to criticize the discrimination and prejudice that is currently occurring around the world. However there was a political message in Gaga’s performance, just not the one that was expected. Stood in front of millions of viewers Gaga triumphantly sang ‘No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian or trans-gendered life, I’m on the right track baby, I was born to survive’. The response was roaring applause. That message might not reach you, it may seem small, perhaps even unnecessary, but for countless queer little boys and girls that said ‘you are not alone’. That is the message of the LGBT community, and the message that has helped bring me back from the brink of suicide to where I am today; not perfect, but happy.
See you soon,